Two Crowns, Two Hopes, One Future

Isaiah 28:1-29

We live in a dangerous world: Consumer Product Safety Commission, Underwriters Laboratories, Food & Drug Administration – primary emphasis on safety and protection; guardrails, roadside signs, lights of particular color; labels on food, medicines, appliances; idiot lights on a car instrument panel; computers that ding and popup messages – “do you REALLY want to do that?”; seat belts and airbags; we are surrounded by sights and sounds and devices that continually work to keep us safe and remind us of danger.

Then there are the things we can’t see or touch; infectious diseases like MRSA, CDIF, H1N1; diseases we don’t know how we get that can be deadly; things we can barely predict and cannot control: tornadoes and tsunamis and earthquakes and floods and fires; ranging from mildly inconvenient to life-threatening. And that doesn’t count job hazards, hazardous waste, risk of too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation, depressed yet? Blame it on Adam and Eve!

But there’s more. Danger that puts more than our bodies at risk. We don’t talk much about that these days, supposedly a matter of faith, should be a private not public matter. God didn’t get that memo – in his view, things that endanger our souls should be addressed in public as well as private. Isaiah’s warning message was for the entire nation, not just those within earshot. The lesson in our text revolves around question of trust: you have options, which will you choose, who will you trust? Bearing in mind, the eternal destiny of your soul is at stake.

For Israel, choices were between trust in a god of their own making and the true God to lead them wisely; confidence in one of their neighbors or the promised Messiah to deliver them; belief that they could provide for their own future or waiting on the Lord to “give [them] a future and a hope”. (Jer. 29:11) Details maybe a little different today but choices are still the same: which crown will we desire, which leader will give us hope, can we according to God’s word count on having a future?

A. two crowns v.1-10

crown of pride or crown of glory

sources of pride: own wisdom, self-control, autonomy. Once again, God uses Judah’s neighbor as example of what they shouldn’t do – good example of a bad example. In this case, Samaria, capital city of tribe of Ephraim, largest of 10 tribes making up northern kingdom. Oblivious to danger, were convinced all was under control and they could pursue pleasure without restraint. Listened to priests and prophets (v.7) who assured them – no problem! Together were viewing present and planning for future from perspective of a drunkard. They weren’t necessarily intoxicated, just thinking like they were.

Alcohol and other mind-altering substances significantly affect or impair ability to think, at the same time elevating individual’s perceptions of his ability. More intoxicated a drunkard becomes, more convinced he’s poster child for wisdom and self-control. Has all the right answers, couldn’t possibly be mixed up about anything, can stop drinking long before drunk, definitely doesn’t need help or a designated driver. Those who are in similar condition often greatest fan club, praising one another’s profound insights into the world’s problems and best solutions while refusing to listen to sober reason.

That crown of pride would be knocked off by Sovereign Lord, trampled on the ground along with those wearing it; hollowness of pride and earthly wisdom would be made obvious. Especially true when contrasted with that which distinguished the Lord’s remnant: crown of glory and diadem of beauty. No self-made crown, this would be the Lord himself, valued by his people as that which made them beautiful. God would be source of wisdom and strength, enabling to do what is right, what is necessary to avoid danger.

B. two hopes v.11-22

false hope (in Egypt and Assyria) or true hope (in Messiah)

Judah and Jerusalem weren’t immune from foolish thinking and acting: ridiculed God’s solution as too simplistic. Trust Me, he said, leave the details to Me, delight in Me and I will take care of you and your neighbors. Not an elegant enough course of action; needed to engage in negotiations and agreements with nearby nations to chart a certain future. Sadly for them, trust in Assyria and Egypt would lead to further enslavement, not deliverance.

The Jews placed so much confidence in foreign nations, believed they had made treaty with death and the grave (v.15), convinced they would escape judgment. How arrogant, you think. But is our world so different? Between diet and supplements and surgery and technology we act as if we set the terms of our dying, when and how we desire, hastening or prolonging as we wish. When it does finally come, there will be no judgment; even world’s greatest scoundrel is “in a better place now”. Hell, if it exists, must be either empty or air conditioned; certainly no one we know is there and we’re all going to heaven of course. Hope for the future in this case built on lies and falshood – see v.15.

God has a plan, one that again demonstrates emptiness of the world’s hope, its inability to provide even basic comfort of long enough bed and wide enough blanket (v.20). Their treaty with death would be dissolved in flood of God’s judgment. However, there is a future for those hope built on the rock established by God, the precious cornerstone that is a sure foundation for confidence. That stone would protect from the flood of judgment, would not be moved by the the assaults of evil men. We know from NT that the stone is none other than the Lord Jesus himself (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8) and those who trust in him will not be ashamed (Rom. 9:33). There is a real city with a real foundation and a beautiful cornerstone that will endure for eternity; those who hope in that stone will find residence in his city.

C. two illustrations v.23-28

plowing and harvesting

Think about it; who taught you how to farm? It is God who taught the farmer principles of agriculture (v.26). So what does the farmer do? Plows at the right time and for right length of time; there’s time to plow and harrow (or roto-till), then the ground is ready, time to plant. Having tilled the ground, farmer knows which portion of field is most suitable for particular crop – right amount of sun/shade, moisture, proper soil consistency, right fertility. Plants what will grow best in each area, some in rows and some in hills and some broadcast.

Also true when it is time to harvest and prepare crops for storage. Good farmer knows same method is not suitable for all kinds of crops. String beans and shell beans, summer squash and winter squash, radishes and rutabagas while similar in some ways must be harvested, stored and used differently. Skilled farmer follows best practices so as to maximize yield, harvesting sufficient for food and next year’s seed.

If God can be trusted to teach the farmer most productive methods, can likewise be trusted to teach his own children using most effective methods. In treatment of his people, God doesn’t overuse the plow or cultivator, harvests at right time, does not thresh grain to point of damage or grind it to useless powder. God even more so than farmer does exactly what is right at precisely the right time.

D. one good Father v.29

God has made his case; what can we conclude?

Big picture – two crowns we can pursue, two directions in which to look for hope, only one future. Question is: to whom will you entrust your soul? Neighbors and governments and leaders who trust in their own genius? Or the Sovereign Lord, the Rock himself, “with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning”/ (James 1:17) The One who promised a Substitute to stand in your place in the judgment if, and only if, your faith is in him?

Day-to-day – whose wisdom will you follow when called on to make decisions both large and small as part of daily life? Wisdom of one who is convinced of their own genius? Or the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), the Lord Jesus? The one described: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)

In our culture we set aside one day each year when we honor fathers; that can be a good thing, so long as we don’t fail to honor mother and father the other 364 days. Even more important is our duty and delight to daily honor the “one who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy” (Isa. 57:15), our Heavenly Father. He is the only one who can guarantee us a good future and give us a satisfying present. When we entrust our ways to him, obeying his commands from a loving desire to please him, we can be assured he will be our crown of glory, our unfailing hope, one who abides with us and in us forever. (John 14:16; 15:5)

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